The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ban has Bollywood huffing & puffing
- cry for creative freedom

If smoking were banned on screen, the side effects would be damaging. Even if it is not a full-fledged ban, but a scroller with a warning, the results would be devastating.

The biggest casualty, feels the film industry, would be the mafia on screen. What would the mafia be without the cancer stick' And what would the industry be without the mafia'

“If actors can’t smoke, what will happen to the ‘negative shades’'” wails filmmaker Ashok Pandit. There are negative shades abounding now, so a lot would change. The most-awaited film of the moment, D ' not to mention the truckloads of films that have already been made on the mafia ' may or may not be about Dawood Ibrahim, but it certainly is about the gangland.

The actor who is or is not playing Dawood, Randeep Hooda, is often shot menacingly in the haze of rising cigarette fumes. (In real life, Hooda, who used to smoke five cigarettes a day before, admits to smoking 30 now.) Where would be the sense of lurking danger if there were no cigarettes'

A film now showing, Bunty aur Babli, has Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee lighting expensive cigars. They are imposters. Amitabh Bachchan smokes bidis in despair, chasing them. He is a cop, though. What would happen to them if a warning started to crawl down the screen every time a lighter or a matchstick flickered'

Then there are films like Mumbai Godfather, which may release at very few theatres, but is sure to have used a lot of nicotine to build the atmosphere. The mafia would be killed by a statutory warning.

The industry is fuming. Pandit says he may move court against the directive, yet to come into effect, as he says it curtails “creative freedom”.

Mohit Suri, who directed Zeher, has the same problem, and his film, too, is hinged on “negative shades”.

“The ban is baseless,” says Suri. “My next venture is called Blue Film ' it’s a stand against pornography and there are lots of characters in the film who would smoke,” he says. “But I will not change the script.”

Anurag Basu, who directed Murder, another film that delved into the dark psyche, gave up smoking because he was diagnosed with cancer. “Films reflect directors’ choices. Earlier, my characters would smoke. Now they don’t because I don’t, but it has nothing to do with the ban. The ban is foolish.”

Top director Yash Chopra, whose films almost never have characters who smoke, agrees. “Yes, we should do something about the smoking problem but banning it outright from films may not be a good idea.”

Filmmaker Shyam Benegal and veteran actor Om Puri spit fire. “Banning scenes of cigarette smoking makes no sense to me,” says Benegal. “Yes, the government should be concerned with the health consequences of smoking but then they should think seriously about banning the production of tobacco itself.”

Puri suggests banning tobacco hoardings first.

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh feels the audience is influenced by actors, but a directive like this is “censorship”. “A lot of things are shown on films. We can’t curtail all that.”

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the frustrated lover or Rajnikant ' what would they be without cigarettes'

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